The phrase “establish the work of our hands” in Psalm 90:17 is a request for God to make meaningful and lasting the work that we do during our lives. The full verse reads: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:17 ESV). This verse comes at the end of Psalm 90, which is a reflection on the fleeting nature of human life and the eternity of God. The psalmist recognizes that compared to God, our lives are like a breath or like grass that sprouts up in the morning but withers by evening (Psalm 90:5-6). In light of the temporary nature of our earthly lives, the psalmist cries out to God to make our work during our short lives on earth endure. There are a few key things to understand about this request:
1. It is a prayer for meaning and purpose. In the preceding verses, the psalmist contemplates that because our lives are so short, much of what we do often feels meaningless and futile (Psalm 90:10). We work hard, but often cannot see lasting fruit from that work because our lives are over so quickly. So the psalmist asks God to “establish the work of our hands” – to make what we do in our limited time count for something, to have lasting impact and not just be passing futility. This is a prayer that our work would fulfill its created purpose and have enduring results.
2. It is a request for God’s favor. The verse asks God to “let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us.” For God to “establish the work of our hands” requires His active involvement and favor. We cannot make our work last on our own – we need God’s blessing and empowerment for that. So this verse recognizes that lasting, fulfilling work only comes about through God’s gracious favor in our lives.
3. It applies to all kinds of work. This verse is not just about paid employment, but about any work we do – raising children, volunteering, creating art, acts of service and kindness, labor of any kind. The psalmist asks God to make all of the activities of our hands meaningful and enduring. God cares not just about our jobs, but about everything we spend our time doing. He wants all of the “work of our hands” to fulfill His purposes.
4. It brings glory to God. Work that has eternal impact brings glory and honor to God. Thus, when God “establishes the work of our hands,” the result is that more people come to know Him or are blessed through the work. Any lasting, fruitful work we do is only possible because of God’s favor, so He receives the recognition. Everlasting work comes from an eternal God!
5. It requires faith. Asking God to establish the work of our hands is an act of faith, because often we do not see the fruits of our work in our lifetimes. We must trust that God can use our humble efforts for eternal purposes beyond what we can imagine. The lasting impact may come after we die through how God uses the legacy of our work. So this prayer requires faith that God can take our finite labors and make them count for eternal good.
6. It brings confidence and hope. When we pray this way, we gain confidence that our work is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). God wastes nothing, so we can have hope that He will use all we do for His glory. Even small, everyday actions can have significance when God establishes the work of our hands!
7. It leads to perseverance. Since we pray in faith without seeing the full results, asking God to establish our work helps us persevere. We keep laboring, serving, working even when we cannot see the fruit. We can work with joy and endurance when our eyes are on God to establish the work rather than on immediate visible outcomes.
8. It focuses on eternal rewards. Jesus talked about storing up “treasures in heaven” instead of earthly rewards that do not last (Matthew 6:19-21). When God establishes the work He has prepared for us to do (Ephesians 2:10), it leads to eternal treasures. The work God ordains for us has significance beyond this life.
9. It brings assurance of God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign over our work and efforts. When He establishes the work of our hands, it demonstrates that He reigns over all things. Even the most powerful human efforts cannot endure apart from God’s favor. We can rest in the fact that His plans cannot be thwarted!
10. It reveals God’s wisdom. God knows the plans and purposes He has for our lives and work. When we pray for Him to establish our work, we are asking for His infinite wisdom to be displayed. God knows better than we do how our work can glorify Him. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).
In summary, praying for God to “establish the work of our hands” is a cry for meaning, purpose, and eternal fruitfulness in our limited earthly lives. It reminds us that lasting work comes not by human might but through God’s favor. In the end, our work is really God’s work done through us by His grace. As Psalm 127:1 (ESV) says “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Everything we do is mere vanity without God establishing the work of our hands for His glory.
Other key Bible verses about God establishing the work of our hands:
Psalm 138:8 – “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.”
Isaiah 26:12 – “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for you have indeed done for us all our works.”
1 Corinthians 3:6-7 – “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
Hebrews 13:20-21 – “Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6 – “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
2 Corinthians 9:8 – “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
Proverbs 16:3 – “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.”
1 Corinthians 15:58 – “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
Colossians 3:23-24 – “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
Exodus 23:26 – “None shall miscarry or be barren in your land; I will fulfill the number of your days.”
Job 36:5-7 – “Behold, God is mighty, and does not despise any; he is mighty in strength of understanding. He does not keep the wicked alive, but gives the afflicted their right. He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous, but with kings on the throne he sets them forever, and they are exalted.”
Isaiah 54:17 – “No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.”
Isaiah 45:2-3 – “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.”
Deuteronomy 8:18 – “You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
Psalm 1:3 – “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
Isaiah 48:17 – “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go.”
Proverbs 10:22 – “The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it.”
Deuteronomy 28:12 – “The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.”
Psalm 90:16-17 beautifully summarizes what it means for God to establish the work of our hands: “Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” When God establishes our work, it bears fruit that endures for generations to come and brings glory to His name.